WARSAW, Poland (AFP) – Poland on Wednesday announced steps to end all Russian oil imports by the end of the year, while Germany issued a warning about natural gas levels and called on people to keep new signs on how Russia will war in Ukraine. It heightened tensions over securing energy supplies to power Europe.
Poland, which has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees, has taken the lead in the European Union to rapidly cut off Russian fossil fuels. The 27-nation bloc has refused to impose energy sanctions because it is dependent on Moscow for fuel for cars, electricity, heating and industry, but has announced proposals to wean itself off those supplies.
“We are presenting the most radical plan in Europe to abandon Russian oil by the end of this year,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.
It comes a day after Poland said it was banning Russian coal imports expected by May. Morawiecki says Poland will take steps to become “independent” of Russian supplies and calls on other EU countries to “withdraw” as well. He argues that the money paid for Russian oil and gas fuels the war machine.
While some in Europe are calling for an immediate boycott of all Russian oil and natural gas, the European Union plans to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year and eliminate them before 2030. Meanwhile, turbulent energy markets have been hit by the push of already high oil and natural gas prices. For Europeans and others around the world.
The European Union is turning to investments in renewable energy as a long-term solution but also scrambling to support alternative sources of fossil fuels, including a new agreement with the US to receive more LNGor LNG, that arrives by ship.
Poland is expanding a liquefied natural gas terminal to receive shipments from Qatar, the United States, Norway and other exporters. A new pipeline on the Baltic Sea carrying gas from Norway is expected to open by the end of the year. It has also worked to reduce dependence on Russian oil through contracts with Saudi Arabia, the United States and Norway and is considering imports from Kazakhstan.
Germany, the largest economy in the European Union and one of the countries most dependent on Russian natural gas, has signed deals with several suppliers of liquefied natural gas, which is shipped to neighboring European countries and then pumped. Officials say they aim to end the use of Russian oil, coal and natural gas this year by mid-2024.
It did not stop the fears of the coming months. Germany issued an early warning on gas supplies and called on businesses and households to conserve amid concerns that Russia could halt gas deliveries unless they are paid in rubles..
Western countries rejected this request, arguing that it would undermine the sanctions imposed on the war. France also called on Wednesday “those who can” to conserve energy, including electricity and gas, with a special focus on companies and public utilities.
“There have been several comments from the Russian side that if this does not happen (ruble payments), the supply will stop,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters in Berlin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said converting Russian gas payments into rubles would be a “prolonged process”. He pointed out that there is always a gap between gas supplies and payments and that the government will announce the details of the plan soon.
Habeck said those rules were expected on Thursday.
And he demanded the necessity of early warning because Russia is still fulfilling its contracts so far. Habek said this is the first of three levels and involves the formation of a crisis team to intensify monitoring of gas supplies.
Gas storages in Germany are filled to about 25% of their capacity.
“The question of how long the gas will last mainly depends on several factors (such as) consumption and weather,” he said. “If there is too much heating, the storage facilities will be emptied.”
He added that Germany was ready for a sudden stop in Russian gas supplies, but warned of “significant impacts” and urged consumers to help prevent shortages by reducing their use.
“We are in a position where I have to say this clearly, every kilowatt-hour of energy saved helps,” Habeck said.
The second alert level requires companies operating in the gas industry to take action to regulate supply. The third component, Habeck said, means full state intervention to ensure that those who need the gas most – such as hospitals and private households – receive it.
“We are not there and we do not want to go there,” he added.
Italy issued advance warning of the risks to its natural gas supplies days after the outbreak of the war, given its heavy dependence on Russia. Energy Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said the warning was aimed at informing users of “the uncertainties associated with the conflict”, while stressing that supplies were still sufficient to cover demand. People were not asked to memorize.
France’s gas storage facilities are “well stocked,” according to the head of the energy regulatory commission, but still require some effort to save energy.
“If we don’t, there is a risk next winter that consumer demand will outpace our ability to meet that demand,” Jean-Francois Karenco told BFM news radio.
France gets about 70% of its electricity from nuclear plants. But during peak winter demand, the country needs to import electricity, some of which is produced via gas-fired plants.
Jordanians reported from Berlin. Samuel Petrikin from Brussels, Sylvie Courbet from Paris and Colin Barry in Milan contributed.
This story has been corrected to show that Poland’s prime minister expects to end coal imports in May, not gas imports.